Catering to Hollywood’s Obsession with Death

by J-Mirabelli

"Death maimed me, death sustained me, and death motivates me," says Vidal Herrera whose company has grown especially by word of mouth and the fact that he drives around in a shiny white Hummer with a vanity plate "yspotua".

Prop houses in California have been suffering a slow death as a result of production companies moving to cheaper locations. But one entrepreneurial businessman has found his niche by catering to Hollywood’s morbid obsession with death.

Vidal Herrera, a former deputy field investigator for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, has built a small but thriving business by supplying mortuary props to the film and TV industry.

His company, Morgue Prop Rentals, sells and rents everything from body freezers and crypts to autopsy tables, dissecting equipment and embalming instruments. Because of the popularity of TV crime dramas, there is no shortage of demand for such equipment.

Herrera straddles two worlds. He has two full-service autopsy laboratories: one that is the real thing where he runs his private autopsy business; and another that is a replica rented out to film crews for its props and is also used as a film location.

He entered the prop rental business quite by accident. As a hobby, he spent years collecting cast-off mortuary equipment from hospitals. Eventually he had enough to fill two garages.

Herrera found a use for it eight years ago when a set decorator from the TV series Crossing Jordan, paid him $10,000 to rent out embalming tables, X-ray machines and other equipment. Morgue Prop Rentals soon began renting out equipment and offering technical advice to scores of other TV shows. He also acted as a technical advisor on CSI and other shows.

As long as people love to see blood and gore in their TV crime drama diet, there will be a need for his services.

Read more:

Prop House fills unusual niche | LA Times

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